Cal Tjader ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid Jazz) 4/5

Amid the plethora of Cal Tjader re-issues and box sets now available, Avid still offer outstanding individual coverage with four albums that present contrasting images of the Tjader sound. The first CD focuses on the early period of Cal Tjader as a leader, developing his own individual style after working as vibraphonist as part of the George Shearing quartet. The album, ‘Tjader plays Tjazz’, features pared down quartet and quintet formats from 1954/5, including the likes of Eddie Duran on guitar, Al McKibbon and Eugene Wright on bass, and these were well received at the time, so much so that Tjader became the recipient of the Downbeat ‘New star of the vibes’, award in 1955. The first album is essentially of standard interpretations in a West Coast jazz setting and include a homage to Kansas City and the music of Count Basie on, ‘Moten swing’, while the Great American songbook is revisited on, ‘Imagination’, ‘I’ve never been in love before, and even, ‘Jeepers Creepers’. Fast forward three years and by the second album, ‘San Francisco Moods’ (1958), Tjader was now developing a talent as a composer and that is reflected in the large number of self-penned pieces. Of particular note is the inclusion of Latin Jazz number that would become a staple of the Tjader repertoire, ‘Viva Cepeda’. In fact, it would become a Latin Jazz standard of sorts and was reprised by Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apaché. With the recent death of Gonzalez in his adopted Spain, aged sixty-nine, this number takes on a deeper significance.

If percussionists Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria make only a fleeting presence on, ‘San Francisco Moods’, they are all over the double album that became a classic example of Afro-Cuban Jazz, ‘Concerts by the sea, parts one and two’. By then, the Cal Tjader Latin formation was maturing and comprised Paul Horn on flute, Lonnie Hewitt on piano, Al McKibbon on bass and the twin percussion discussion of Bobo and Santamaria. The fast-paced, ‘Tu crees que’, is here as are, ‘Afro Blue’ and ‘Doxy’, the latter a real favourite of the leader and a much later version surfaced on Concord Picante. A personal delight is the take on, ‘A night in Tunisia’, while for jazz balladeers, ‘Bess you is my woman’, ‘Love come back to me, and, ‘Round about midnight’, demonstrate that Tjader and his band could still perform in a straight ahead context. Full discographical details as one might expect from an Avid re-issue and with complete back cover notes which often shed new light on the recordings.

Tim Stenhouse

Read also: Stan Getz and Cal Tjader ‘Sextet’ (Original Jazz Classics/Universal) 4/5